Ramadan prep at my home in Pakistan usually begins a week earlier when we stock up our pantry, prepare frozen food items and deep clean our house so that we can focus on prayers and deepen our connection with God during the holy month.
Ramadan at home means hearing the siren from the nearby mosque go off to alert us about the end of sehri (meal of dawn to keep the fast), the aroma of delicious food, eating iftar (evening meal to break the fast) with the rest of the family, offering tarawih (night prayer performed only in Ramadan) in local mosques or temporary prayer spaces that pop up all around the city during the blessed month.
The Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions unfortunately did not allow me to travel to my home country to spend Ramadan with my family. Despite knowing that observing this special month in a foreign country is going to be a challenging and isolating experience, I looked forward to attending tarawih prayers at my local mosque in Gillingham, Kent to get a sense of community and to stay socially connected.
But as Covid restrictions eased across the United Kingdom and mosques opened their doors to the public, some are not allowing British Muslim women inside to pray.
More than 25% of the British mosques do not accommodate women at all. Those that do often make less room for women than for men in terms of the size of the prayer spaces.
The pandemic, however, has exacerbated the issue that too at a time of healing and learning. To my dismay, my local mosque, Jamia Gillingham Mosque is not offering prayer spaces for women due to restricted numbers. Currently, only 70 men can offer tarawih prayers inside the mosque.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
I am, however, not the only one who faces this issue. The Open My Mosque, a social media project campaigning for more inclusive mosques, has received reports from multiple women worshippers about mosques around the country closing to them citing ‘Covid protocol.’
Julie Siddiqui, a women's rights campaigner, expressed her anger at women being excluded from mosques through an Instagram video. Her local mosque, Jamia Masjid and Islamic Centre, in Slough, Berkshire, is not open for women this month. She believes the issue is way beyond Covid, it’s a mindset that tells men that they can decide whether women can go to pray in a mosque either for tarawih prayers during Ramadan or for daily prayers all year round.
As women’s stories sparked a conversation online around their access to mosques, some mosques reviewed their stance. For instance, the Hounslow Jamia Masjid and Islamic Centre in London, is now accommodating women as well.
I believe the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to block Muslim women from religious spaces, in fact they should be involved actively in religious and community life thus promoting access and opportunities for them in public life as well.